Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Last call for Plaxico?

Just when you thought it was safe to put Plaxico Burress back on your draft board, NFL commish Roger Goodell indicated that he is "leaning toward indefinitely suspending" the gun-toting free-agent WR, according to Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports. League sources say the commish is peeved that Burress' plea bargain on felony gun charges doesn't include any jail time. So, apparently, if the courts won't dish out any punishment, Goodell will.

It will be tempting to use a late-round pick on Burress, on the off chance that he resolves his issues and winds up on a team where he can again be an impact player. But more likely than not, those owners who select him will end up waiving him a week or two into the season, in favor of a player who can contribute immediately.

Which is to say, don't waste your time. A backup defense or tight end is more likely to add value to your 2009 squad.

Monday, June 29, 2009

JaMarcus Russell, backsliding...

It takes more than a strong arm and pinpoint accuracy to succeed as an NFL quarterback. Above all else, it takes leadership. You must inspire your teammates to follow you, and they must be convinced you've got their back when the going gets tough.

JaMarcus Russell is blessed with all the natural talent necessary to excel as an elite NFL passer. But he fails miserably as a leader. Which is why he will be neither a winner, nor fantasy relevant, until that changes.

After raising eyebrows (in a positive way) by calling his own minicamp exclusively for Raiders QBs and receivers, ostensibly to form deep bonds that would prepare them for a rigorous 2009 campaign, Russell went AWOL before the final day. So far, no explanation of his whereabouts has been revealed.

It's like I tell my kids: You can do 10 things perfectly, but when you screw up once, it can ruin everything you've worked so hard for.

Russell is rapidly heading toward the dust bin of NFL Draft history, yet another epic first-round QB bust like Heath Shuler, Tim Couch and Ryan Leaf. There's still time for him to turn it around, but the clock is ticking. And when you play in Oakland, midnight strikes fast.

Fool's prediction: Jeff Garcia will be the starting Raider QB by Week 6.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Et tu, Julius?

The conventional wisdom this offseason has been that Julius Jones would likely return to the feature RB role in Seattle, now that Maurice Morris has moved on to Detroit. As a result, Jones' average draft position has been significantly higher than you might expect.

Not so fast, my friend.

Seahawks.com reports that Greg Knapp, Seattle's offensive coordinator, has been vocal lately about his preference for a two- or three-back committee. Ouch. That means TJ Duckett will likely be the short-yardage and goal-line runner, and Justin Forsett could even get into the mix more.

That sound you're hearing is the air coming out of Julius' balloon. Feel free to pass him by in your draft, as he's unlikely to ever be starter-worthy except under the direst of circumstances.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Golden Bear...fantasy enthusiast?

Who would have thought I'd have to travel to Korea to meet Jack Nicklaus? But there we were at a press conference announcing the progress on his new signature golf course at the massive Songdo International Business District development just outside Seoul.

And no, he's not into fantasy football. Shocking...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ahmad Bradshaw...late-round gold

Several RB combinations have become known as "Thunder and Lightning." Trouble is, too few live up to the powerful symbols they personify.

The Giants' tandem of Brandon Jacobs (a true Thunder back if there ever was one) and Ahmad Bradshaw (as lightning quick and electrifying as they come) will undoubtedly carry that label into the 2009 season. It suits them well. But while everyone is well aware of the production a healthy Jacobs brings to the table, Bradshaw is a lesser-known quantity.

Here's what you need to know about the third-year rusher: He's averaged 6.1 yards per carry over his first two seasons in the league. He has an incredible burst and knack for finding the seam in the blocking, and can take it to the house on any carry. His is a virtual lock to take over the departed Derrick Ward's role as the No. 2 RB in the Giants' rotation, which should translate roughly to triple his 61 carries from 2008. Oh, by the way, Jacobs hasn't played in all 16 games in a season since he became the starter.

True, NY drafted NC State's Andre Brown in the 4th round, who could poach some carries; but I'd be shocked if many came out of Bradshaw's allotment.

With the Giants potentially struggling through the air with a new stable of starting WRs, the running game will be relied on more than usual in 2009. Jacobs is a fringe RB1 for your fantasy team. Bradshaw, available several rounds later, has the potential to be even more valuable over the course of the season. You'll likely get RB2 value out of him, even though he'll be your third or fourth RB option.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Don't sleep on Palmer

In 2007, Carson Palmer was the 9th best fantasy QB in the land. The year before, #4. In 2005, No. 1, the Big Cheese, the King of all QBs, the standard against which all other fantasy passers were measured.

It was all peaches and cream, until Palmer injured his elbow in Week 5 last year, essentially costing him the rest of the season.

And just like that, Palmer has become an afterthought in fantasy circles. He fell to the end of the 7th round of Sporting News' Expert Mock Draft, and there's very little buzz surrounding him heading into the season. It doesn't help that his favorite WR, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, is now in Seattle, and his other favorite weapon, Chad Ochocinco, is a nut job.

But don't be surprised to see Palmer return to his elite form this year. By all accounts, his elbow is completely healed and he has been throwing extremely well all offseason. Laveranues Coles has stepped into the starting lineup and is quickly developing a rapport with his new QB. Ocho is behaving himself, and saying all the right things about having a banner year. And don't forget the explosive, but troubled, Chris Henry, who is arguably the most dangerous #3 WR in the business. If he can stay on the right side of the law, the Bengals could have the most potent WR corps this side of Arizona.

Despite a solid draft, Cinci is unlikely to turn around their pitiful defense in one year, so Palmer will likely be airing it out all four quarters. If you decide to pass on Brees, Peyton, Brady and Romo in your draft, Palmer offers outstanding upside in the middle rounds.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Where there's smoke, there's Favre

Rumors are swirling that Brett Favre has already signed a contract to play for the Vikings in '09. The retirement-challenged QB's agent, Bus Cook, denies it. But this is the same guy who denied that Favre was considering a return to the NFL at all just a week or so ago.

I'm still not interested from a fantasy perspective, except with regard to Sage Rosenfels' value. The former Texan was likely to start over the inept Tarvaris Jackson, and was worth keeping an eye on during the preseason. If Favre joins the Vikes, Rosenfels' value disappears. His WRs, though, might merit a slight uptick, if only because the aging gunslinger can't help but air it out. And his receivers aren't penalized by Favre's incessant INTs.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

This year's rookie sensations

Three rookie RBs ended the 2008 season among the Top 10 fantasy backs: Matt Forte (#4), Steve Slaton (#6) and Chris Johnson (#10). Each enjoyed great early success due to their individual talent and the favorable situations into which they were drafted.

Two first-year backs offer similar upside heading into 2009: Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells (top) and Georgia's Knowshon Moreno.

Moreno waltzes into a Broncos backfield that has undergone a complete makeover. Gone are last year's hodgepodge of backs, including Selvin Young and Tatum Bell. Moreno, selected with the 12th overall pick in April's draft, is expected to get the bulk of the workload over aging free-agent acquisitions Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan. Though he doesn't have ideal size to be a workhorse back, Moreno has already demonstrated an ability to pick up the blitz (a common bugaboo of rookie RBs) and should have little trouble taking over the feature role in an offense that could struggle through the air now that Jay Cutler works in Chicago.

But as high as I am on Moreno, the guy that excites me most is Wells. Aside from his ridiculous nickname and a history of nagging injuries, there's nothing not to love about Beanie. Arizona took him with the 31st overall pick as the centerpiece of their plan to improve one of the NFL's worst rushing attacks. Edgerrin James was released and Tim Hightower proved he's not an every down back. Enter Beanie, whose rare combination of size and speed should make him unstoppable as the running complement to the Warner-Fitz-Boldin air show. After all, opposing defenses would be nuts to stack the box against that passing attack.

I took Wells as my RB2 in the 4th round of Sporting News' expert mock draft. Methinks he won't be available that late when we draft for real in late August.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Curb your enthusiasm for Ronnie Brown

As a lifelong Dolphins fan, I couldn't have been more excited by the team's renaissance in 2008. Winning the AFC East after going 1-15 the year before wasn't even a dream entering the season.

It was about as unexpected as Ronnie Brown's five-TD explosion (including a passing score) against the Pats in Week 3, when the Wildcat was (re)born and Miami began its improbable run to the playoffs. Indeed, I don't know who was more surprised by Ronnie's mind-boggling performance on that wonderful day: Bill Belichick or I. After all, he was sitting comfortably on my bench.

As the 2009 fantasy draft approaches, keep that singular performance in mind. More specifically, remember that in his 15 other regular season outings, Ronnie posted just six more TDs, and averaged less than 70 total yards from scrimmage. Not exactly starting RB material.

Furthermore, those mediocre stats came against Miami's 5th-place schedule. In 2009, the Dolphins draw a more formidable 1st-place slate of opponents. It gets really hairy during the fantasy playoffs, when the Fins face the Pats, Jags and Titans in consecutive weeks, before a good matchup with the Texans in Week 16 and another doozy in Week 17 vs. Pittsburgh.

I'd love to think Ronnie and the Fins will have another outstanding season. But the road this year is tougher, the Wildcat is no longer a novelty, and Ricky Williams still has plenty of tread left on his tires to eat into Brown's carries and fantasy production.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sleeper alert: Jerome Harrison

Jamal Lewis turns 30 prior to the '09 season and we already witnessed signs of him slowing down in 2008, when he barely cracked the 1,000 yard plateau (1,002 to be exact) and found the end zone just four times.

The Browns are clearly preparing for the future, having drafted Clemson's James Davis in the 6th round. But this year's RB star in Cleveland could be Jerome Harrison (photo), who showed some nice flashes last season when given the chance. He's not considered to be an every-down back, but has been compared to Jets RB Leon Washington.

This could be yet another RBBC situation, where no Cleveland RB is an every-week fantasy contributor. But when Jamal eventually wears down, Harrison is likely to benefit most. Consider him a late-round gem.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Old faces in new places

As usual, there's been a good deal of player movement during the offseason. If you haven't been paying close attention, you may have missed some. Here's a quick rundown on the important moves from a fantasy perspective, broken down in three rough categories: Thumbs Up (good move for the player's fantasy stock), Thumbs Down (bad move for his stock), and Push (little or no affect). More detailed analysis on these moves will come in August.

Thumbs Up:

Laveranues Coles, WR -- Jets to Bengals
Joey Galloway, WR -- Bucs to Pats
Kyle Orton, QB -- Bears to Broncos
Derrick Ward, RB -- Giants to Bucs
Nate Washington, WR -- Steelers to Titans

Thumbs Down:

Matt Cassel, QB -- Pats to Chiefs
Jay Cutler, QB -- Broncos to Bears
Terrell Owens, WR -- Cowboys to Bills
LJ Smith, TE -- Eagles to Ravens


Correll Buckhalter, RB -- Eagles to Broncos
Bobby Engram, WR -- Seahawks to Chiefs
Tony Gonzalez, TE -- Chiefs to Falcons
Torry Holt, WR -- Rams to Jags
TJ Houshmandzadeh, WR -- Bengals to Seahawks
Fred Taylor, RB -- Jags to Pats
Kellen Winslow, TE -- Browns to Bucs

And then there are a few players in limbo, who may or may not land with a bang (or thud) somewhere, including:

Plaxico Burress
Brett Favre
Ahman Green
Marvin Harrison
Edgerrin James
Matt Jones
Deuce McAllister

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Updates from around the NFL

In follow-up to yesterday's post on Brandon Marshall, here's a link to his web site, where he essentially kisses Denver goodbye: http://www.bmarshall15.com/blog/?p=142

Of course, money talks, so this can always change. In fact, SI's Peter King is convinced that Denver won't let Marshall walk.

Other players to watch:

Brett Favre is dropping some heavy hints about returning (again), but only if he can play for the Vikes. It's sad to see him wind down his career in such desperate fashion. His possible return seems only designed to make the Packers regret letting him go. Come on, Brett...give it up, wait five years, and go to Canton where you belong. Don't add yet another sorry chapter to the end of your career. Wasn't your late-season implosion with the Jets enough of a sign? Even if he goes to Minnesota, I'm not interested from a fantasy perspective.

Speaking of Minnesota, keep an eye on rookie WR Percy Harvin (above). Of course, first-year receivers are generally Fool's gold -- though Eddie Royal and DeSean Jackson might beg to differ. But Harvin is so intriguing because he will likely line up in several positions (as he did at Florida), including RB and as a wildcat QB. So while his receiving numbers may not be any great shakes, the addition of rushing and passing stats could make him fantasy-worthy right out of the box.

Jay Cutler's move to Chicago reunites him with his favorite WR target from Vanderbilt, Earl Bennett. Word out of Bears camp is the two have rebuilt their on-field chemistry quickly, so don't be surprised if Bennett -- a second year pro who was virtually invisible in his rookie season -- quickly surpasses Devin Hester as the team's WR1. Meanwhile, TE Greg Olsen is also making waves early on, and could become Cutler's favorite red zone target. Consider Bennett a late-middle-round sleeper, and Olsen a potential top 5 fantasy TE (who can also be gotten on the cheap).

Stay away from Willis McGahee until further notice. He's had a horrible offseason, and could be as low as 3rd in the RBBC pecking order, or off the team completely. Ray Rice looks to be the starter, and LeRon McClain the short-yardage specialist from the FB position. McGahee is the odd man out.

Lots of chatter about Plaxico Burress latching on with another team now that his trial has been pushed back to 2010. I'll believe it when I see it. He will surely be suspended by the commish for several weeks (if not the whole season), and if a team does sign him, it could be weeks before he's up-to-speed on the playbook. Let someone else waste a draft pick on him. They'll release him soon enough, and you can scoop him up midseason if he looks like he has a chance to contribute.

Put Chad Ochocinco back on your radar. Now that TJ Housh is a Seahawk, Chad has decided to get back with the program in Cinci. He's been palling around with Carson Palmer, and is saying and doing all the right things in preparation for the 2009 campaign. He could be a worthy WR1 again, but should be available among the second tier on draft day. Note to those who haven't been paying attention: Laveranues Coles was brought over from the Jets to team with Ocho.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Brandon Marshall -- Caveat Emptor

Brandon Marshall is a mess.

He's in the process of recovering from hip surgery. He's been avoiding OTAs during the offseason, most likely due to discontent with his contract (though he doesn't openly admit that). His starting QB has changed from All Pro Jay Cutler to All Mediocre Kyle Orton. And now, rumors are swirling that he's asking for a trade.

Granted, Marshall is so gifted, he could rise above all the noise and still have a banner season. But there are enough red flags here to merit dropping him on your draft board, perhaps by a round or more.

Latest rumor has the Ravens eyeing him. While that normally evokes images of WR Siberia, I could see him meshing nicely with the up-and-coming Joe Flacco. He's no Cutler, at least not yet, but he has much more upside than Kyle Orton. A Flacco-Marshall combo would be a very intriguing development should it come to pass.

Meanwhile, I'm loving Eddie Royal even more. With a stellar rookie season under his belt, and a lot of time to gel with Orton during the offseason, he could be a draft-day bargain.

Monday, June 15, 2009

OK, folks, it's time to get serious...

T-minus two months till fantasy D Day! Indeed, draft night will be here before we know it. It's time to get focused here at Fantasy Fools, so you can expect much more frequent postings from now on.

More good news: Sporting News' Fantasy Draft Guide is now available! Check your local book store or news stand for this excellent resource, packed with loads of great insights and info on players, as well as the complete Mock Draft from SN's resident experts. This is the one where I selected Matt Forte with the second overall pick. (For the record, I picked up a competing draft guide in the airport the other day, and what do you know? Forte went #2 in their draft too! I guess I'm not so crazy after all.)

So go get your Sporting News guide, and come back to Fantasy Fools daily. I should have an update most days. And once we get to August, I'll be uploading my full pre-draft content.

Tell your neighbors, tell your friends, tell your mother-in-law: Fantasy Fools is the place to be!